|TONGA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Tonga within the Geographic Region of Oceania
Map of Tonga
Flag Description of Tonga: red with a bold red cross on a white rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner; the cross reflects the deep-rooted Christianity in Tonga; red represents the blood of Christ and his sacrifice; white signifies purity
Official name Fakatuʿi ʿo Tonga (Tongan); Kingdom of Tonga (English)
Form of government hereditary constitutional monarchy with one legislative house (Legislative Assembly )
Head of state King: Tupou VI
Head of government Prime Minister: Samuela ʿAkilisi Pohiva
Official languages Tongan; English
Official religion none
Monetary unit paʿanga (T$)
Population (2013 est.) 103,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 289
Total area (sq km) 748
- Urban: (2011) 23.4%
- Rural: (2011) 76.6%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 73.5 years
- Female: (2012) 76.8 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: not available
- Female: not available
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 4,490
1Includes 17 directly elected seats and 9 nobles elected by the hereditary nobles of Tonga, as well as 2 cabinet members who are not elected.
Background of Tonga
Tonga, officially Kingdom of Tonga, Tongan Fakatuʿi ʿo Tonga, also called Friendly Islands, country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It consists of some 170 islands divided into three main island groups: Tongatapu in the south, Haʿapai in the centre, and Vavaʿu in the north. Isolated islands include Niuafoʿou, Niuatoputapu, and Tafahi (together known as the Niuatoputapu, or Niuas, island group) in the far north and ʿAta in the far south. Tonga’s total land area is dispersed between latitudes 15° to 23° S and longitudes 173° to 177° W. The capital, Nukuʿalofa, is on the island of Tongatapu. Tonga is a member of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations.
Geography of Tonga
The summit of volcanic undersea mountains forms the two roughly parallel chains of the Tongan islands. Most of the islands of the western chain are classified as high islands, because they have been raised well above sea level by repeated volcanic activity. Four of them are still active volcanoes. Some of the islands composed of lava formed by shield volcanoes, such as Late and Kao, have a hard cone-shaped surface that is not easily eroded. Others, such as Fonuafoʿou (Falcon Island), were formed by more explosive volcanoes, and their surfaces, composed of ash and pumice, erode readily. Fonuafoʿou has arisen and disappeared repeatedly, owing to its cycles of eruption and erosion.
The low islands of the eastern chain have been capped by coral polyps and foraminifera (marine organisms that have calcareous shells), which build coral rock and limestone reefs. The continuing growth of coral counteracts the sea’s erosion of the reefs and the islands enclosed by them. A protective reef surrounds Tongatapu Island; many islands in the Vavaʿu Group lack such protection and are shrinking.
Tongatapu Island, a raised atoll in the Tongatapu Group, with an area of 100.6 square miles (260.5 square km), is the largest and most densely populated island in Tonga. The highest point in Tonga, 3,389 feet (1,033 metres), is on Kao Island in the Haʿapai Group. ʿEua Island (Tongatapu Group) has an old volcanic ridge rising to 1,078 feet (329 metres) above sea level. The Vavaʿu Group has hills ranging from 500 to 1,000 feet (150 to 300 metres), and Late Island, in its western volcanic chain, rises to 1,700 feet (518 metres). Vavaʿu Island has a fine, large landlocked harbour. The effects of natural erosion are particularly vivid in Vavaʿu. Rainwater reacting with the carbon dioxide in vegetation acquires acidic properties and dissolves coral and limestone rock, thereby forming caves. The constant action of the waves has created the sheer cliffs and sandspits of Vavaʿu and Nukuʿalofa. There are no rivers in Tonga, although ʿEua and Niuatoputapu have creeks.
Tonga has a semitropical climate except in the northernmost islands, where truly tropical conditions prevail. Temperatures range between 60 and 70 °F (16 and 21 °C) in June and July and reach 80 °F (27 °C) in December and January. The mean annual humidity is 77 percent. The mean annual precipitation varies from 64 inches (1,620 mm) in the Haʿapai Group to 97 inches (2,450 mm) on Niuafoʿou. Humidity increases as the distance from the Equator lessens. The northern islands, which are closest to the Equator, are particularly vulnerable to typhoons, which generally occur between December and April.
- Plant and animal life
The well-drained, fertile soils of ʿEua, Kao, Tofua, and Late islands and the slopes and hilltops of Vavaʿu support original forests. ʿEua has the greatest number and variety of trees, and the ridge on the eastern side is a forest reserve. The fast-growing toi and the tavahi constitute a majority of the tree cover on ʿEua. The sandy, rocky, dry soils of the coasts and the direct exposure there to strong winds and salty spray create unfavourable conditions for coastal vegetation. To conserve moisture, plants near the shore have small waxy or hairy leaves. Tidal sand and mudflats have swampy areas that support mangroves. Behind the mudflats, trees with buttress roots, such as the lekileki, sometimes grow.
Tonga’s land birds include doves, rails, starlings, kingfishers, and many others. The red-breasted musk parrot and the blue-crowned lory, considered by some to be the most beautiful birds in the Pacific, inhabit ʿEua. Island cliffs serve as homes for red-tailed and white-tailed tropic birds. Among the native birds of Niuafoʿou Island is the incubator bird. The common reef heron is a native shorebird. Transient species include golden plovers, wandering tattlers, long-billed curlews, and bar-tailed godwits. Tongan waters attract several varieties of seabirds such as noddies, terns, frigate birds, and mutton birds. The village of Kolovai on Tongatapu Island is home to a colony of flying foxes (Pteropus tonganus, a type of Old World fruit bat). The bats cling to large trees by day and fly at night to forage for food.
Demography of Tonga
Tongans are closely related to Samoans and other Polynesians in culture, language, and racial makeup. Nearly the entire population claims an original Polynesian ancestry, with a small amount of Melanesian influence through contact with Fiji. Intermarriage with Europeans has become more common, especially as a result of the increasing out-migration of Tongans since the 1970s. Religion is an important aspect of Tongan society, and most Tongan families are members of a Christian church. About two-fifths belong to the Free Wesleyan (Methodist) Church; there are smaller numbers of Mormons and Bahāʾīs; and the remainder belong to smaller, mostly Protestant, denominations. The Tongan language is taught in primary schools and is the official language, in addition to English, which is studied as a second language.
Most of the Tongan population lives in the three major island groups, and nearly three-fourths live on Tongatapu Island. The urban population has been steadily growing and now accounts for about one-third of the total population. Many Tongans migrate overseas, in particular to the United States and New Zealand.
The majority of the population lives in villages. Traditional structures are called fale; they are rectangular in shape and have thatched or corrugated tin roofs and sides made of woven coconut leaves, reeds, or timber. Some Tongans reside in South Seas colonial-style wooden homes with gingerbread trim and exterior walls in pastel shades.
Nukuʿalofa has all the amenities of a capital city. It is also a major port of entry and has several wharves and piers. Much of Nukuʿalofa’s economic activity revolves around coconuts and coconut products. Other ports and commercial centres are Neiafu in the Vavaʿu Group and Pangai in the Haʿapai Group.
Economy of Tonga
Agriculture is the mainstay of the Tongan economy. Squash, coconuts, bananas, and vanilla beans constitute the main cash crops, and other important crops include yams, taro, cassava, corn (maize), watermelons, pineapples, breadfruit, limes, and tomatoes. All land is essentially owned by the Tongan monarchy, but large estates have been divided among the country’s nobles. Land is parceled out to peasant proprietors: traditionally, every male age 16 or over was entitled to an allotment of 7.5 acres (3 hectares) of land for cultivation; more recently, population growth has reduced the size of actual allotments in many places. Timber production, livestock raising, and fishing also contribute to Tonga’s economy. Many of Tonga’s products are consumed domestically, but imports—mainly from New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, and the United States—form the bulk of the goods consumed in the country. Food and beverages account for the largest category of imports, in terms of value.
Manufactures include concrete products, construction and transportation equipment, furniture, clothing, food products, and various small handicrafts. A small mining industry quarries coral and sand. Crop processing and marketing have been undertaken by cooperative societies. Remittances from Tongans working overseas—especially in New Zealand, the United States, and Australia—and tourism have both contributed significantly to the growth of the Tongan economy.
About one-fourth of Tonga’s road network consists of paved all-weather roads, almost all of which are located on the two largest islands; the remaining roads are of dirt or coral. Tonga has no railroad. Nukuʿalofa and Neiafu are ports used for external shipping. Copra and bananas are exported from Pangai. Regular international air service to New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Samoa, American Samoa, Niue, and Hawaii (Honolulu) is available from Fuaʿamotu International Airport on Tongatapu. Domestic flights are serviced by airports on ʿEua, Haʿapai, Vavaʿu, Niuafoʿou, and Niuatoputapu. An undersea fibre-optic cable linking Tonga with a Fiji-based regional telecommunications network provides high-speed Internet access.
Government and Society of Tonga
Tonga’s constitution, granted in 1875 by King George Tupou I and amended only slightly since, established a constitutional monarchy. The chief executive is the monarch, who governs in close consultation with the prime minister in all matters except the judiciary; the monarch alone holds the power to appoint judges, grant clemency, and commute prison sentences. The monarch appoints a Privy Council, which consists of the monarch and the cabinet. The cabinet has a prime minister, a deputy prime minister, other ministers, and the governors of Haʿapai and Vavaʿu. The unicameral Legislative Assembly (Fale Alea) has 26 seats: 9 hereditary nobles are elected by their peers, and 17 representatives are directly elected for three-year terms by all citizens age 21 and over. Local government is provided by three island councils: one covering ʿEua, the Niuas, and Tongatapu, one for the Vavaʿu Group, and one for the Haʿapai Group. The Privy Council acts as part of the court system as well as assisting the monarch in an advisory capacity; it hears appeals from the land court. The Court of Appeal has jurisdiction over civil and criminal appeals from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court hears cases on matters arising under the constitution and laws of the kingdom, except for cases concerning titles to land. There are also magistrates’ courts and a land court. Judges are appointed by the monarch with the consent of the Privy Council and serve indefinite terms unless removed for cause.
Education is free for all Tongans, and attendance is compulsory between ages 5 and 14. The government runs primary, secondary, and vocational training schools, including a teacher-training college, and the government and many Commonwealth countries offer scholarships to help Tongans pursue higher education abroad. Some primary and secondary schools as well as vocational institutions are run by churches. The University of the South Pacific operates an extension centre in Nukuʿalofa. The private ʿAtenisi Institute (1975) offers secondary, undergraduate, and graduate studies in the liberal arts. Tongans receive free dental and medical treatment. Although the general health of the population is adequate, rates of noncommunicable diseases related to obesity (such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease) have risen steadily since the 1970s. Family planning aids are disseminated with the help of the United Nations and New Zealand.
Culture Life of Tonga
History of Tonga
Archaeological evidence indicates that the islands of Tonga were settled c.830 B.C., but the Polynesians are believed to have arrived some 400 years after that. The current ruling dynasty traces its rise to power to the 10th cent. Dutch navigators sighted the northern islands in 1616 and the rest of the group in 1643. Capt. James Cook visited the islands in 1773 and 1777 and named them the Friendly Islands. English missionaries arrived in 1797 and helped to strengthen British political influence. Internal wars in the early 19th cent. ended with the accession of King George Tupou I (1845–93), who unified the nation and gave it a constitution (1862), a legal code, and an administrative system. His successor, King George Tupou II (1893–1918) concluded a treaty making Tonga a British protectorate in 1900. Tonga remained self-governing, with the British responsible for foreign and defense affairs. Queen Salote Tupou III ruled from 1918 to 1965, when she was succeed by her son, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. A new treaty in 1968 reduced British controls, and complete independence was attained on June 4, 1970.
Since the late 1980s, Tongans have agitated for democratic reforms, but the king has generally opposed any change that would dilute the monarchy's power. In 2001 it was revealed that as much as $37 million in government funds had disappeared as a result of investment in a Nevada asset management company, and corruption within the royal family and government remains a problem. Amendments in 2003 to the constitution permit the restriction of freedom of speech, a move that was used to silence publications critical of the government, but parts of the amendments (and restrictive media laws passed in 2003) were subsequently declared void.
In 2005 two commoners were selected to join the cabinet for the first time, and in 2006 one (Fred Sevele) was appointed prime minister, also a first. In July–Sept., 2005, the nation experienced a civil service strike that turned into a call for democratic reform, but the strike was settled without any addressing of the broader political issues. King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV died in 2006, and George Tupou V succeeded him.
Frustration over the failure of the legislature to enact reforms led to rioting in the capital in Nov., 2006; many government offices and businesses were destroyed. Following the rioting, the government imposed a state of emergency that was not rescinded until Feb., 2011, and announced that there would be new legislative elections in 2008 and that a majority of the members of the legislature would be popularly elected. Subsequently, the government arrested a number of prodemocracy legislators on charges relating to the riots and moved to set back legislative reform to as late as 2010.
In the 2008 legislative elections, prodemocracy candidates, including incumbent legislators facing sedition charges dating from the 2006 riots, won two thirds of the popularly elected seats. In July, 2008, prior to the king's formal coronation, he announced that he would yield much of his power as part of a move toward democracy, but progress toward that goal was slow. The five legislators accused of seditious conspiracy had all their indictments dismissed in Sept., 2009, except for a seditious speech charge against one representative. A tsunami the same month devastated the northern island of Niuatoputapu. In Nov., 2009, the constitutional commission issued its recommendations, which called for reducing the king's power, making the head of government answerable to the Legislative Assembly, and increasing the people's legislative representatives; in Apr., 2010, legislation increased the number of the people's representatives in future elections. In July, however, the judicial independence was undermined when the king was given control over the appointment of judges. In November, a prodemocracy party won a majority of the popularly elected seats, but an alliance of the noble representatives and independent representatives chose the new prime minister, Lord Tuivakano. In Mar., 2012, the king died; his brother succeeded him as Tupou VI. A number of Tonga's islands suffered damage, in some cases devastation, from a cyclone (hurricane) in Jan., 2014.
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